December 5, 2020

In the King’s Garden (Gen 2), part one

By Chaplain Mike

And now for more “Creation Week” here at Internet Monk.

Oh joy.

This has been prompted by recent disputes in the blogosphere between some prominent Christian leaders, who hold to a Young Earth Creationism position, and the BioLogos Forum, a group of Christians from various disciplines that asserts the basic evolutionary model best describes God’s work of creation.

We love conversation ’round these parts, and nothing seems to stir up discussion like this subject.

So, this week we are laying down our arms, climbing out of the trenches, comparing notes, expressing our convictions with some grace and humility, and talking.

I hope.

Because we agree that what the Bible says is foundational to these issues, we are emphasizing several posts that deal directly with the text. We have already looked at Genesis 1. Today, we look at chapter 2.

A Drama in Three Acts
The next main section in Genesis after 1:1-2:3 runs from 2:4 through chapter 4, and contains three stories, all presented in similar form.

2:4—Introduction: First “toledot”

2:5-22—Narrative: The Garden
2:23—Speech: Author’s comment on marriage
2:24-25—Epilogue: Naked and not ashamed

3:1-13—Narrative: The Fall
3:14-19—Speech: God’s words of judgment
3:20-24—Epilogue: Exile from Eden

4:1-22—Narrative: Cain and Abel
4:23-24—Speech: Lamech’s appeal
4:25-26—Epilogue: Birth of Seth

What Happened to God’s Good Creation (2:4)
Some dispute whether the section begins at 2:4a or 2:4b. Should the sentence, This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created” be considered the conclusion of chapter 1, or the introduction to what follows?

In my view, it should be viewed as introducing 2:4-4:26. The book is organized by ten of these “toledot” statements, each of which introduces “what came forth” from the previous stories. They are like doors that lead us from one section of Genesis to another.

  • Chapter 1 describes how God made the skies and the land, and formed a land of blessing with humans serving as his representatives.
  • Now, beginning in Gen 2:4, the Bible tells us “This is what came forth from the skies and the land…,” i.e. what happened to God’s good creation.

The second part of 2:4 reverses “skies and land”—”when the Lord God made the land and the skies.” This emphasizes that the perspective of this story will be from the ground up rather than the more cosmic point of view expressed in chapter 1. In addition, the appearance of the covenant name of God (YHWH) and its use throughout this chapter brings attention to God not only as majestic Creator and King but also as the One who enters into relationship with his people.

The State of the Land before the Fall (2:5-6)
Though many think these verses merely describe the uncultivated state of the land before the creation of Adam, John Sailhamer points out that the picture here goes further than that, describing what the land was like before the effects of sin came upon it.

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. (NASB)

God’s curse was not yet upon the land, for the plants (the “thorns and thistles” of 3:18) had not yet sprouted, the rain had not yet fallen (the rain of the Flood), and humans had not yet been exiled from the Garden “to work the land” (3:23).

In contrast to the cursed land to come, the original land was fertile, generously watered by springs that irrigated it, promoting verdancy and abundance.

God Creates Adam (2:7)

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (NASB)

This concise statement of Adam’s creation contains a play on words that might be captured by translating it something like, “God formed ‘groundling’ of dust from the ground…” The verb introduces the metaphor of a potter working with clay to form something. The “living creatures” of 1:24 were brought forth from the earth as well, though God’s direct action is not specified as it is here. What further sets “Groundling” apart from those animals here in ch. 2 is not “the image of God” as in ch. 1, but God breathing into him “the breath of life.”

The Bible consistently speaks of Adam as a real, historical person. There is no reason to think he is merely a literary or mythical (in the sense of “non-historical”) character that is introduced to make the author’s points.

However, that does not mean that the description of his “creation” in this verse is “literal.” God’s forming of Adam may be expressed in anthropomorphic terms. Job describes his own birth in similar terms:

Your hands fashioned and made me altogether,
And would You destroy me?
Remember now, that You have made me as clay;
And would You turn me into dust again? (Job 10:8-9)

As did David in Psalm 139:13-16—

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

One might argue that those are poetic texts, unlike the historical narrative in Genesis. However, narrative can include figurative and metaphorical elements without sacrificing historical accuracy. James McKeown gives a wise warning about modern people reading ancient texts in his Genesis commentary:

The Bible is not written just for scholars, and therefore it may be understood by a clear, straightforward reading. However, what may have been a clear, straightforward reading to someone two or three thousand years ago may be different from our perceptions today. It may be our scientific minds that are causing the complications. (p. 313)

Was Adam the first human being? I personally don’t think the Bible requires us to take this position. In fact, the final act in this section of Genesis, the story of Cain and Abel, makes more sense if we recognize the presence of other humans on earth besides Adam and Eve. After Cain kills Abel and is sentenced to wander, he is afraid that others will hunt him down. He travels away from the land, moves east of Eden and settles in a community in Nod. There he takes a wife, has a family, and later builds a city of his own.

It is my view that Adam was the first representative man. He is the first of many with whom God graciously inaugurated a special relationship for the purpose of extending his blessing to the whole world.

In Peter Enns’ words, Adam is “proto-Israel.”

Adam is the beginning of Israel, not humanity. I imagine this may require some explanation.

Israel’s history as a nation can be broken down as follows:

  • Israel is “created” by God at the exodus through a cosmic battle (gods are defeated and the Red Sea is “divided”);
  • The Israelites are given Canaan to inhabit, a lush land flowing with milk and honey;
  • They remain in the land as long as they obey the Mosaic law;
  • They persist in a pattern of disobedience and are exiled to Babylon.

Israel’s history parallels Adam’s drama in Genesis:

  • Adam is created in Genesis 2 after the taming of chaos in Genesis 1;
  • Adam is placed in a lush garden;
  • Law (not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) is given as a stipulation for remaining in the garden;
  • Adam and Eve disobey and are exiled.

…The question in Genesis is whether “Adam” will be obedient to “the law” and stay in Eden, thus continuing this special relationship, or join the other “adam” outside in “exile.” This is the same question with Israel: after being “created” by God, will they obey and remain in the land, or disobey and be exiled?

To Be Continued…
We are getting ahead of ourselves a bit here. Further observations from Genesis 2-3 will have to be made to bear out this interpretation. We will also need to discuss how this fits with other aspects of what Adam and Eve represent. In the next study, we will talk about how this chapter describes the Garden, Adam’s calling, the creation of Eve, and what Genesis 2 teaches about the gift of marriage.


  1. What further sets “Groundling” apart from those animals here in ch. 2 is not “the image of God” as in ch. 1, but God breathing into him “the breath of life.”

    I might disagree.

    Though I don’t have it readily available, I once did a close study of these chapters and concluded that the main difference between humans and animals per the creation accounts was that humans were made in the image of God and animals weren’t. While in Genesis 2 “the breath of life” might set humans apart from the rest of the animals, in the entirety of the creation narratives it does not appear to be a human distinctive. Maybe I can find my comments on my home PC.

    • Chaplain Mike says

      I think you misread what I’m saying, or I stated it poorly. All I’m saying is that ch. 2 doesn’t mention God’s image like ch. 1 does.

  2. The quote by James McKeown really hits me where I am right now. I need some resources to help me understand my limitations as a modern, western-civ thinking dude reading the Bible.

    Any ways you all could point me?

  3. Back in the day, when I was in elementary school in the 60’s, I was hearing one thing at church, and a completely different thing at school. One day I came home and said to my mom, “did you know people came from apes?.” I was definitely confused. I don’t remember if my parents said anything about this subject when I brought it up.

    In junior high I asked my dad if God could have planted “evidence” to fake out the unbelievers. The whole thing was so bizarre to me, and I thought, I’ll never know the truth. It took a while before I started to consider that deception is a human thing. God doesn’t deceive people. I don’t remember what my dad said. I just thought, is it possible we’re wrong? It’s unthinkable. I never asked anyone at church about evolution. I was afraid it wouldn’t turn out well.

  4. Chaplain Mike,
    I have a general question, not necessarily specific to this post, but to your “Creation Week” posts altogether: does your view and perspective on Genesis specifically hinge on Moses being the author? IOW, is your view significantly undermined or lessened if the Pentateuch wasn’t written down until much later?

    I love your perspective, BTW. It makes much sense.

    • No, I think understanding that the final editing of the First Testament took place after the exile actually strengthens my interpretation of Genesis.

      Though I think a large amount of the material and the basic message of the Torah originated with Moses and was intended to be understood by the generation of Israelites who first entered the land, the text also has a long history and was finally edited during and after the Exile. The issues faced by the first generation (God’s calling, their failures and experiences in the wilderness, their restoration and entry into the land) were similar to those faced by the returning exiles, the main difference being that the exiles’ need to hear this Word was even more intense, given the long history of Israel’s failures. The Adam and Eve story would have meant even more to them.

  5. I have to say, hearing that Adam could possibly not have been the first man is certainly new to me, but very much intriguing. While I’m not a theologian or scholar, I don’t have a problem with Adam being thought of as merely a representation of man (his very name implies this) rather than a historical person, but I have to say, the view that Adam was merely the true beginning of Israel — God’s first representative is very interesting to me.

    I’m curious… How does that fit in with the flood story? Global vs Local? If local, would it mean that God only destroyed some of the descendants of Adam? But not all people?

    What about timing here? Based on this theory should we conclude that Adam as a historical figure lived about 6000-10,000 years ago?

    • As for the local/global flood question, see my post on the land. I think all the events in Gen 1-11 take place within a limited geographical area.

      Re: timing. I find it extremely difficult to determine anything definite regarding the length of time we are talking about.

      • Mike –

        Are you saying that you do not belive the entire world was flooded?

        • Yes.

          • Ok –

            Question: Does this mean that the only people who were alive lived in and around where Noah was?

            I see in Genesis that God said ““I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.”

            Interesting concept you have there Mike. I am [obviously] of the believe the entire world flooded.

          • Not speaking for Chaplain Mike, obviously.

            I’m always sort of curious why people feel this needs to have happened to be true.

            Everything in the story points to a literary structure of cataclysm and deliverance that parallels the Israelites’ own story, right down to the “covenantal chest” that becomes the image of deliverance.

            The story is arranged chiastically to emphasize that.

            Poor god. If he were a poet, nobody would have a chance of comprehending it in our literal age, because they don’t know how to find the truth in a poem, only in history and in the evening news or the New England Journal of Medicine.

  6. Another thought….

    Are all humans today descendants of Adam?

    • As a statistical matter almost certainly, as long as Adam and Eve have some living decendents.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Google the phrases “Genetic Adam” and “Genetic Eve” sometime. These are traces of human DNA (Genetic Adam) and mitochondrial DNA (Genetic Eve) which indicate that everyone bears the genes from a single male & female from about 65,000 years ago (when the Toba supervolcanic eruption triggered a near-extinction event).

        The researchers are careful to point out that this does NOT necessarily mean descent from a single couple (apparently to head off the spin YECs would doubtlessly put on it); rather that these two individuals’ DNA spread throughout the population until all had some traces of it.

  7. I think the question of where the other first humans fit in the picture is quite interesting!! Thanks for the thoughts. So where did the first humans come from? If you go with evolution, then when did God breathe his Spirit into us? When did we get souls? When did we transition from ‘ape’ to ‘God’s Image-bearers’?

    Another question… With the ‘Adam not being first’ question, if he was not the first, then how does that fit in with Romans calling Adam the first man (5:12-21)? Yes, it could be using Adam as a ‘type’ or ‘representative’, but the plain reading doesn’t seem to support as the most straightforward interpretation. (and he is mentioned again in passing as first 1 Corinthians 15:45)



    • My basic answer to your first group of questions (and sorry in advance that it is so dissatisfying), is that I don’t know. I really don’t know if all this can be reconciled with a more scientific understanding. I do know that I don’t think answering those kinds of questions was really God’s intent in giving us these texts.

      As for Adam being “first,” I still take that in the sense of being representative, but to be honest, I am still learning and working through the NT texts.

      • I have a problem with Adam being viewed as a “representative” man. St. Paul’s asserts that sin entered the world through one man who was Adam (Romans 5:12), and all throughout the New Testament, Adam and Eve are portrayed as our original parents.

        There may have been evolution up to the point of Adam and Eve, but they were the first parents to be given souls and the first to have free will to obey God or to sin.

      • Here’s a possible pointer as you work through it, Mike (and you’re a lot smarter than I am, I’m finding, so you may have thought of this already).

        Myths are funny things. They don’t tolerate you looking at them and saying, “Okay, this means literal truth X while this means literal truth Y.” I mean, you can do that, but the myth dies in your hands while you do it. If you say things like, “Bacchus represents the part of us that is wild and uncivilized,” you might be accounting for yourself, but you’re not living in the myth.

        Paul has a mythic Jewish mind. For him, it isn’t a question of whether “Adam really lived.”

        Adam _means_ something, and catches up in himself the meaning that he means. He is humankind. And all die in humankind.

        Adam’s story is the myth that says so, and for him to say that death enters the world through one man is simply a necessity of not betraying the myth. And since his larger (symmetrical) point is that through one man (a new “son of Adam / humankind,” the famous “son of man” epithet) all shall be made alive, he performs a way of balancing images.

        The story, the true myth that he tells, is that humanity dies.

        But the Son of Adam is resurrected, and those who believe in him are made alive.

        There is absolutely no reason why one must believe in the historicity of Adam to accept Paul’s argument hook, line, and sinker: to say one must believe in Adam to believe the argument is like saying one must believe that Romans is poetry because the Psalms are poetry.

        • Jim Park says

          If a “nuance” can be critical, this one is. Does Paul’s reference to Adam really lend credence to the creation story , or is Paul simply using a common basis of understanding to make his point? Does Jesus’ reference to the three days Jonah spent in the fish mean that Jesus literally ascribed and testified to that, or does it mean He resorted to a widely understood story (whether fable or fact) as a shortcut to clarity? Did Jesus perhaps make the comment with a wink and a smile? How would we ever know?

          Such subtleties become opague to us through translational error and cultural bias. Our Greek mindset causes us to take everything literally and to look for detail when there is none intended and to impart authority to even casual references …which, of course, can ruffle a lot of feathers and/or lead us into some fascinating discussions!

  8. McKeown’s comment is very perceptive. For people who enjoy the use of words and language, the “plain reading” of a text is metaphorical to some degree. In other words, it’s no more in favor of a plain reading to interpret every word literally than it is to assume a bit of flair to the expression of facts. That’s part of humanity.

    I appreciate your thoughts on Adam, and I really look forward to the second installment


  9. “After Cain kills Abel and is sentenced to wander, he is afraid that others will hunt him down. He travels away from the land, moves east of Eden and settles in a community in Nod. There he takes a wife, has a family, and later builds a city of his own.”
    Anyone who has taught a children’s sunday school class about this knows the children will raise their hands & say — Where did all these people come from??? Then you find yourself in a mess! What would their parents want me to say??? what should I say to children, so they can understand?? Funny thing is I think the children can understand the real message about creation better than we can. God created us, God remembers us , God wants us to know him ,God loves us.
    We as adults say – God not science, God not biology , God not evolution!
    The idea of Adam being the “representative” first man has always been the best way for me to understand this question above. also, I see the early creation stories being about God’s chosen people, Isreal, as mike has said above. as far as quotes form Jesus or Paul about Adam or Jonah, I don’t believe they had to be refering to Historical people for their words to be true. How many people have given analogies about Ansalan in the chronicles of Narnia about God, yet we do not believe Ansalan really existed. Thanks Mike for your willingness to have you views roasted by the blog. I for one agree with almost all your posts on creation. peace

    • Good point, Briank.

      Kids still have mythic minds, until we teach them to strap the text to a chair and beat it with rubber hoses until it gives up its (literal) meanings.

    • I also find it puzzling that other characters are already mentioned in this unfolding drama. Perhaps Cain was merely anticipating the future expansion of humanity, either through his own line or Shem. But the Genesis 4 record does not supply us with those facts. We are left with assumptions based on the evidence supplied. I have no problem in taking the known information and drawing plausible conclusions. Commentaries are full of them and many of them make perfect sense within a theological context. But in order to maintain the position that this as an exact historical account requires the very sort of logic through inference that evolutionists are criticized for earlier in Genesis.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “After Cain kills Abel and is sentenced to wander, he is afraid that others will hunt him down. He travels away from the land, moves east of Eden and settles in a community in Nod. There he takes a wife, has a family, and later builds a city of his own.”
      Anyone who has taught a children’s sunday school class about this knows the children will raise their hands & say — Where did all these people come from???

      They evolved, of course. That was the explanation of one joke book whose title I can’t remember. While Adam & Eve were going through all that Garden of Eden thing, these others were evolving on the outside.

  10. “Was Adam the first human being? I personally don’t think the Bible requires us to take this position.”

    Where do you get this belief from Mike?

    I see in the book of Genesis Elohim making a man – and it is very clear that man is Adam….

  11. Apparently the idea that God created the universe in seven days (give or take), with a different thing created on each day, comes from Zoroastrianism. (And then the evil spirit corrupts each thing, one by one.) The idea probably entered Judaism during the Babylonian exile. Before that, the creation story might have been something involving all those weird allusions from Psalms and Proverbs (Leviathan, the Morning Stars who sang together, etc.).

  12. I really appreciate these posts. It has always baffled me that some people seem to ask of and derive from the text far more than it was ever intended to give. The purpose of Genesis as I see it is to set the stage for and begin telling the story of God’s redemptive actions in human history. For this we need a few basic facts (God created, humans sinned, the world is fallen, humans rebelled against God, etc.) but we don’t need, nor are we given, any detailed explanation for exactly how many of these things occurred. Yet so many seem to stake the entire faith on just such detailed explanations.

    I’ve pretty much become a conscientious objector to the wars over issues like this, but it’s discouraging to see so many continue to battle on. Jesus gets lost in the fray.

  13. Hey Mike, great post, I’ d have to agree with just about every point, especially on Adam’s historicity. Might I suggest what the pink elephant in the room is once one accepts that Adam was the first covenant, representative figure and not the first H. sapien? How did his disobedience affect us, the humans that came before him, and those that lived along side him? How was original sin passed on, if not through ordinary generation, as I believe Westminster puts it? These are the sorts of Q’s I’d like to tackle head on at my blog in the upcoming weeks. I have some answers rattling around in my brain, just need time to make them presentable.

    Kenny: “Another thought….

    Are all humans today descendants of Adam?”

    The strong scientific consensus is no. Population genetics shows that, at no point in human history was the entire population bottlenecked at just two presumably Neolithic ANE people; there has always been a small population. Here’s why:
    How do we deal with this evidence? Debunk it? Or re-evaluate traditional assumptions on Genesis? How about a little of both, and in the meantime, trust that this conundrum isn’t taking God by surprise! I think the evidence is a slam-dunk, but hey, some people think the traditional view of A&E is an even bigger slam dunk. So, let’s just speculate as to why either side might be wrong until Jesus comes back and we can ask Adam in person, eh? 🙂

    Stephen: “So where did the first humans come from? If you go with evolution, then when did God breathe his Spirit into us? When did we get souls? When did we transition from ‘ape’ to ‘God’s Image-bearers’?”

    That’s a great question! There are several positions on that, and they all have neat sounding names like “punctiliar monogenism” or “gradual polygenism” so, to go with the non-technical illustration that has helped me most, I like to compare humans receiving God’s image to, well, humans receiving God’s image, only in the womb. When do embryos attain the full image of God? How does that work? At what point in God’s knitting process (“You wove me in my mother’s womb”) does that happen? Does it happen after fertilization, at the zygote stage? Maybe after gastrulation? When the brain begins to form? Does it happen all at once, or gradually over the course of development? The best answer is: I have no clue, but God’s at work knitting and he knows what he’s doing. So don’t interrupt (see: I suspect the mysterious process begins at fertilization and somehow culminates, in a way we don’t fully grasp, as the child develops. Now apply that to human evolution: How/when did we become image-bearers? No idea, but God was at work, knitting us providentially in the womb of the earth. At some point after our “fertilization” as a species, we got to the point of development that we were able to be both self and God-conscious and God could finally say of us “these are my most special creatures, since they alone are made in My image and after My likeness.” For me, our uniqueness is a self-evident reality; how God gave it to us is up to Him. I think He had options and science tells us, generally, which one He took, at least regarding our physical equipment. When exactly it happened, we cannot know for sure. C.S. Lewis put it best:

    “For long centuries, God perfected the animal from which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated [. . .] Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past”

  14. Let me start by saying that it always surprises me how many people when promoting YEC attack modern biology but don’t understand that they’re also attacking modern physics. The proposed solutions to the starlight problem I have seen have been at best incoherent.

    A woman I was seeing once proposed the idea to me that the soul was the thing that gave us, as humans, self awareness. That Adam and Eve were the first self aware humans. (I’ll add to this that I see that as a neat explanation for the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.) That before Adam and Eve we had been beasts, lacking consciousness and conscience. So the fall did not matter to the others around them, as they did not have the same sort of soul (if any) to worry about. It mattered only to those who had this knowledge brought to them- if not by descent, then by teaching.

    A Roman Catholic friend of mine tried to explain the original sin to me this way: all of us, during birth or soon after discover pain and because of it, wish to deny our existence. We wish to stop existing, to fade to oblivion. This is a rejection of God’s gift of life, and our first sin. (His phrasing was much more eloquent.) The original sin thus became our original sin and not Adam’s.

    Putting these two together gives a rather interesting view of the entire story of Genesis. And it certainly works better than the mock theory that Adam and Eve were created by God, but that the wives of Cain and Seth evolved from a common ancestor.

    I’m not claiming to believe this, but this is how I have had friends who were incredibly proficient in science reconcile their faith and their observations.

    • Lukas db says

      I know a professor of biology who proposes that humans were born via a virgin birth. God, he suggests, may have miraculously brought forth full, ensouled human beings from direct nonhuman ancestors by means of a virgin conception, in a sort of pre-figure of the incarnation.

      I don’t mention this to attract converts to the idea. I’m not one myself. I just find such attempts to reconcile biology and theology interesting.